Guest Article by Sonya Thompsen Halsey
We’ve often heard that life is not a destination but a journey. Certainly, the idea of enjoying the journey and not being overwhelmed with anxiety about getting to a certain goal or way of feeling or being seems wise and comforting. However, the reality is that it’s a huge challenge to be present and steadfast in the face of the onslaught of the thousands of thoughts and feelings we experience every day. How do we focus on the journey when our brains our doing what they are supposed to do – thinking 1,000’s of thoughts a day? If we are feeling frustrated or lost or confused, struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict, loneliness, losses, crises, etc., it is incredibly difficult to simply accept where we are, let alone enjoy it. Quite honestly, sometimes we can’t even figure out where we are at all. Bombarded by painful thoughts and feelings, we may want is to run away, get rid of the feelings, and push them away from our consciousness. We want to ignore what’s going on, “numb out”, hide or doing something – anything – to get to a better place and stop the noise of our racing thoughts. Ultimately, we want to feel in control of our world. We want to plan, figure out how to respond and soothe ourselves with the notion that we can control the outcome of whatever challenge we are facing.
Remember, however, that the avoidance road goes nowhere. The discomfort we experience with not knowing or feeling out of control complicates our relationships with others and ourselves because avoiding the feelings does not make them go away. The effort you use to repress the feelings and avoid them, takes you out of your life and keeps you from enjoying or even noticing what is happening around you. Think about times where you have driven to work and have found yourself unable to recall anything about the drive, for example. If you are reading this, the fact is, your struggles and your feelings have not killed you. And you have learned and developed tremendous coping skills to get you to where you are now. Just try to imagine if your strength and the powerful tools you have developed while riding the storm of your life could be exercised with purpose and intention. How can you lean into your fears and put your wisdom to good use?
Conceptualizing the challenges as part of the journey can be helpful. If you can open yourself to being curious about what a particular struggle can teach you about yourself where you are right now, it is possible to move forward with more balance and confidence. Guideposts, the wisdom of our teachers, mentors, role models, therapists, coaches or healthy friends, can help ground us in the normalcy of what is happening. Developmental models such as that outlined by Erik Erikson or archetypal mythologies such as that described by Joseph Campbell describe shared human experiences and can provide a frame from which to look at your stage of development and tasks you may be working through.
Understanding your values and goals can be another way to look at what you are experiencing and asking yourself how what is happening is useful or out of line with who you are and who you aim to be, and help you clarify what you need or want to do next. And that clarity will provide you with peace, purpose and confidence that you can meet every challenge that you face moving forward which feels more joyful, more balanced and more connected.